Click here to skip navigation Home  |  Subject Index  |  Important Links  |  Contact Us  |  Help

U.S. Office of Personnel Management - Ensuring the Federal Government has an effective civilian workforce

Advanced Search

Resource Center

Link to Resource Center Overview page
Job Aids
Link to Job Aids page

Link to Sample Documents page
Frequently Asked

Link to Frequently Asked Questions page
Complete Booklet

Link to Download the Complete Booklet
Link to Site Map

Resource Center for Addressing and Resolving Poor Performance

Understanding the Process

Addressing and resolving performance is a three-step process. Select a step or the Special Topics area to learn more.

Step One: Communicating Expectations and
Performance Problems

Why Counsel an Employee?

Most performance problems can be resolved through effective communication between supervisors and their employees. A counseling session is an opportunity to clarify expectations and discuss performance problems.

What's the Difference Between Poor Performance and Misconduct?

Misconduct is generally a failure to follow a workplace rule (whether written or unwritten). Examples of misconduct include tardiness and absenteeism, insubordination, and falsification. Poor performance, on the other hand, is simply the failure of an employee to do the job at an acceptable level. The acceptable level is usually, but not always, documented in written performance standards and is typically defined in terms of quality, quantity, or timeliness. Although it is normal for performance and misconduct to be interrelated, it is important to recognize the difference between the two. The guidance in this resource center is designed to help you address and resolve problems that are primarily performance based rather than misconduct related.

What is Effective Counseling?

If, despite the preventive steps you find an employee's performance is still not meeting expectations, the best approach is to meet with the employee to discuss the performance problem.

Select any one of the topics below to access useful reference material.

Checkmark   Tips for Preventing Poor Performance
Checkmark   Effective Counseling Tips
Checkmark   Counseling Employees About Performance Problems
Checkmark   Step One Checklist: Communicating Expectations and Performance Problems
Checkmark   Topics To Include in a Counseling Session

How Can My EAP Help Me?

At times, you will need the assistance of the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that is available to provide counseling for physical or mental conditions, or other personal problems. It's a smart idea to know the name of the EAP specialist in your organization and to make sure you understand the services offered through the EAP and how to refer an employee. By doing so, you are prepared to respond during counseling if employees mention personal problems that are impacting their work.

To Top

Step Two: Providing an Opportunity to Improve

Providing an Opportunity to Improve

Before you even begin the formal process of taking a performance-based action, please be aware that you have certain options. The law provides for two different processes for taking performance-based actions. If a performance-based action is taken under Title 5 CFR Part 432, a formal opportunity to improve is required. If a performance-based action is taken under Title 5 CFR Part 752, an opportunity period is not required. Step Two will walk you through the Part 432 process of giving an employee a formal opportunity to improve his or her performance. (Step Three will provide more details on deciding under which process to take your action.) Regardless of the process you use, an opportunity period is a useful tool for assisting employees in improving their performance.

The Opportunity Period

In most cases, the informal steps you take with employees, such as the counseling described previously in Step One, will prove very effective in your efforts to avoid or resolve poor performance. However, if an employee is still working at an unacceptable level in one or more critical elements, you will need to give the employee a formal opportunity to improve his or her performance.

Over the years, agencies have developed different mechanisms for providing employees with a formal opportunity to improve unacceptable performance. Many agencies have adopted the use of the Performance Improvement Plan, often referred to as a "PIP." The term "opportunity period" will be used in this resource center as a generic reference to a formal period for improving unacceptable performance.

This period is designed to give the employee an opportunity to bring his or her performance up to an acceptable level. It is also the supervisor's opportunity to clearly express his or her expectations and the consequences of not meeting those expectations. If the employee fails to improve to an acceptable level by the end of the opportunity period, further action is warranted.

Under the current regulations for performance appraisal (5 CFR Part 430), there are three types of performance elements: critical, non-critical, and additional. But remember, you can only remove or demote an employee for unacceptable performance in a critical element.

Depending on the nature of the job and the employee's experience, it may be appropriate to offer assistance in a variety of ways. For example, an employee may be given a checklist, paired with another employee, offered training, and/or given closer supervision. Not every employee will require every type of assistance, but once assistance is offered, be sure to follow through with it in the opportunity period.

Opportunity Period Procedures

The procedures for providing a formal opportunity to improve include:

  1. Determination of Unacceptable Performance:  Employee's performance is determined to be unacceptable in one or more critical elements

  2. Opportunity Period Notice Issued:  Inform the employee in writing of the critical element(s) in which he or she is failing, what is needed to bring performance up to an acceptable level, what assistance will be provided, and the consequences of failing to improve during the opportunity period. (See sample notice.)
  3. Formal Opportunity to Improve:  Employee must bring performance up to an acceptable level in failed critical element(s). Duration of opportunity period may vary. Be sure to document the employee's progress and to provide any appropriate assistance.
  4. Determination of Performance Improvement:  Employee's performance is determined to be unacceptable in one or more critical elements.

Deciding What Comes Next

Deciding what comes next depends on the employee's performance at the conclusion of the opportunity period. If the employee has reached an acceptable level of performance, there is no need for any action except to keep providing feedback and encouragement to the employee. If the employee is still performing unacceptably, you must determine the best solution. Your options include reassignment, demotion, or removal (see the flowchart job aid). Although Governmentwide regulations allow supervisors to choose any of these options, your agency may have some internal rules about considering reassignment before the other choices. Before you reach a decision on what to do, find out from your human resources staff what your responsibilities are.

To Top

Step Three: Taking Action

Taking Action

This section is designed to give you an overview of the process used in taking action for unacceptable performance. It will describe the role and responsibilities of the proposing official and deciding official. There is also a brief explanation of employee appeal rights.

A Supervisor's Authority

A supervisor has the authority to take action against an employee based on poor performance in accordance with Title 5 Code of Federal Regulations Part 432, Performance Based Reduction in Grade and Removal Actions, and Part 752, Adverse Actions.

Although it may strike you as peculiar that a performance deficiency would be handled through adverse action procedures, there are times supervisors determine that using Part 752 procedures, which differ from Part 432 requirements, is the most appropriate method of taking action. The specific facts of your case, along with the weight of your evidence, will be determining factors in deciding under which authority to take your action.

To help you understand the differences in these regulations, see Job Aids, Step Three.

To Top
Addressing and Resolving Poor Performance Index   |   Employee Relations   |   Contact Us